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The Better Way

The- Missouri Ozarks are the western outpost of Appalachia.  The hills are not as high as their elder brothers to the east, but they plunge down into narrow, labyrinthine valleys, where streams of cool, green water run.  The surrounding soil is mostly shallow and full of rocks, with open spaces so small that vegetable gardens are the only farming.  Those hills that have not been denuded of their timber are covered in lush and beautiful hardwood forests.  In the summer, they are almost impenetrable; once inside, there is deep shade and a cacophony of sound—a chorus of cicadas, the thump-thump-thump and wild cries of pileated woodpeckers.  In the winter, the trees are stripped bare by ice storms, and the forest floor is carpeted with oak leaves.

The Ozarks are beautiful, but one can feel claustrophobic and trapped by them, and their human communities are isolated and somewhat cut off from the larger world.  They remain a poor rural backwater inhabited by fiercely independent and often violent clans.  Today, the chief occupation of the men appears to be growing marijuana and cooking methamphetamine.  The chief means of escape is joining the Army.

Daniel Woodrell is from this place, and he lives there still.  Those who have not read his books may yet know something of his work.  The excellent screenplay for Ang Lee’s underappreciated 1999 film Ride With...

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